Some thoughts on communication during the election

What the election tells us about communication

500px-Ballot_box_current.svgNow that the dust has settled on the 2015 election, here are a few points about communication that struck me over the course of the campaigns.

  • If you come across as authentic, your audience will be more enthusiastic and, if necessary, forgiving. Authenticity is hard to convey in a few words, but if you’re a politician and sound like you’ve been to a finishing school for MPs, you probably haven’t got it. People want to feel they are seeing the real you.
  • A significant focus on criticising others is a dangerous strategy in the popularity stakes.
  • You fail to address the needs and concerns of all your audiences at your peril.
  • People are interested in the practical and the now and ‘what’s in it for me?’ They are pragmatic about what they see in the world around them, and will approach decision-making tactically if necessary. So focusing on ideology alone is not going to cut it.
  • Don’t act sure about something that you can’t possibly be certain of (e.g. the ‘I’ll eat my hat incident’). It can only backfire.
  • It's a fine line between a creative idea and something that feels a bit gimmicky and inauthentic (the stone), even with the best of intentions. Test ideas carefully before using. Also a lack of buy-in can lead to lukewarm presentation of the concept from those who are supposed to be in your camp.
  • Having seven people spouting at you in sound bites (the election debates) is interesting in terms of the occasion, but you don’t tend to take away much that is new or useful.
  • People will avoid reading long text, even if it’s important (manifestos). So achieving the right mix of simplicity + substance + method of presentation is very important.
  • Context is everything – registering someone’s name is great but using it once, or repeatedly, may not feel natural. Avoid applying a ‘rule’ to everything.
  • Haranguing someone with the same question over and over again does not lead to a discussion that is useful to anyone (election media interviews). It may genuinely not be practical or sensible to answer, and not for sinister reasons. Identifying a particular angle as ‘newsworthy’ doesn’t necessarily coincide with what others want or need to know or provide a well-rounded story.  Building a proper rapport in discussion will achieve better results of greater substance.

Has anything struck you about communication over the election period?

2 Responses

  1. Relating to the authenticity - if you only meet your party's activists you are not getting your message through to everyone else and you are not hearing what they are thinking about. One of the stars of this year's elections was the Yorkshire Question Time audience. One summary of the election I read was: "The politicians and media had decided it was all about the NHS and the economy. Meanwhile, the electorate had decided it was about time the constitution was sorted out." While it's understandable the strategists wanted to avoid a 'Gillian Duffy', it left most people I spoke to thinking it was all going on in a parallel universe and none of the parties were speaking to us.
      Yes, definitely a failure to gauge the true interests and preoccupations.

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